Giallo January: The Final Chapter
So here we are, Giallo January has finally come to a close. I started this series with Dario Argento, so it's only fitting that I end it with two of his very best films. I had mentioned in week one of this endeavor that in my early years, Suspiria was my gateway to Argento and from there I jumped straight into The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Cat o'Nine Tails, and the underrated Four Flies on Gray Velvet. I was so excited to finally get my hands on his next film, which features a poster that always freaked me out and had the tagline of "WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU WERE REALLY SCARED? PSYCHO? THE EXORCIST? JAWS? NOW THERES DEEP RED". From the moment the score from amazing Italian Prog Rock band 'Goblin' kicks in, I knew I was hooked and I'd have to seek out the entire Giallo genre, and 17 years later, I'm still doing just that.
1975 d. Dario Argento
The credits for Deep Red set the stage, an insane synthesizer soundtrack interrupted by a childlike nursery rhyme of doom as we, the viewer witness an abrupt act of violence before easing back into the score. We're then introduced to a psychic seminar where the killer, a member of the audience, is singled out and abruptly leaves (in black gloved glory). Fast forward to pianist Marc Daly (David Hemmings) who witnessed the brutal murder of psychic Helga Ulman who had premonitions of a crazed murderer. Disturbed by a clue he witnesses during the incident, Marc decides to investigate with the aid of a journalist played with daunting confidence by underrated Daria Nicolodi. Hemmings plays a similar role in Antonioni's BLOW-UP (1966). In that film, he plays a fashion photographer who captures what appears to be a murder attempt on film while taking photos of a young couple. The photographer believes his photo holds a clue to a murder, much like in DEEP RED, where Marc believes a painting in Helga's apartment holds the key to her murder.
As far as narrative efficiency goes, this is one of Argento's best effectively managing to hold your attention for over two hours (depending on which cut you watch) and not as incomprehensible as many of his later films. Argento even boldly reveals the identity of the killer in the first act, but the viewer won't suspect a thing, strangely enough. The wrap-up in the end will still come as a great surprise, guaranteed.
Argento also increasingly abandoned realism for more dream-like, heavily stylized settings, slight cues to his next few offerings. In one of the first scenes, we see David Hemmings walking the streets of Rome, while in the background is a modernist café with a huge glass facade, an unusual contrast with the surrounding classicist buildings. The music is a nice departure from the more traditional compositions by Ennio Morricone that Argento used for his earlier films, with the integration of music as an essential element to build up the tension, and called on prog rockers Goblin who add a pounding synthesizer soundtrack.
One of the stars of Deep Red is the camerawork. It sweeps elegantly like a paint brush, painting a tapestry of immense color and tension. Argento's visual craft is second to none in my book and this picture means the world to me. There are at least two cuts of Deep Red; the full director's cut, and the shorter American cut. The European release fleshed out Hemmings' character (and his insecurities) and his relationship with Nicolodi's character. The US cut trims all of that and tightens the picture quite a bit. Leaner and meaner (with surprisingly less gore). Both cuts are necessary Giallo viewing, and integral to the genre. Although Argento would leave the genre for his next two pictures (Suspiria and Inferno) for a more supernatural approach, it wasn't too long before the master returned with his Gialli magnum opus. For home briefing pleasure, Blue Underground released a single disc of both cuts on Blu-ray, and more recently Arrow Video released a limited edition 4K restoration of the film. It's fantastic. Seek it out anyway you can. Watch it.
1982 d. Dario Argento
Many of you have heard me sing the praises of Suspiria. It's my favorite Argento, and changed my cinema viewing experience forever. After continuing the supernatural theme with his next film, 1980's Inferno, Argento returned to the fabled Giallo genre with what I believe to be his best crafted film. In his prime and flowing with creative and imaginative gusto, audiences were gifted with 1982's Tenebre.
With its leather-gloved killer, amazing Goblin score, spectacular and innovative camerawork, and wonderfully gory murders, Tenebre delivers everything you could ask for in a Giallo. After the opening credits, the film starts in New York City, as American author Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) cycles to JFK airport. He flies to Rome so he can promote his new murder mystery novel 'Tenebrae'. Meanwhile in Rome, a woman tries to steal a copy of the book from a shop and is caught. She convinces the security guard to let her off, but someone in the store is watching her and has seen whats happened. Back at her flat she is attacked, pages of the book are forced into her mouth and her throat is slashed with a straight razor, just like the one the killer uses in the novel. The police head straight for freshly arrived Neal to question him and while there Neal receives a letter and phone call from the killer, from that point forward Neal is thrown in a complex mystery and plunged into the center of a number of senseless, violent murders. The finale, to me, hasn't been matched in the genre, and the twist is buried deep within the script.
Stylishly filmed with astonishing photography, the stand out sequence is the murder of the two lovers. Add to this lots of close ups, strange angles, free flowing camera movements and a nice color scheme, and we have a master in his prime who preemptively reacts to every reaction we the viewer might have.
Murder has never been so stylish, and even the most grisly deaths are stunningly captured. A particularly memorable moment has a young girl stumble into the house of the killer, before being chased through a garden by a dog and the killer; this scene is shot from the axe-wielding maniac's point of view, and is incredibly effective. Fans of gore are also catered for with several gruesome murders, walls are decoratively and elegantly painted with blood. I know earlier in the month I said my favorite Giallo was What Have You Done to Solange?, well, I lied. After watching both films again back to back Tenebre beats it out. Maybe it's my love of Argento, or the unmatched Goblin score, maybe it's the insane one take crane shot. Who knows? But this is how I end Giallo January.
Thanks for reading and I hope many of you seek out any unseen Gialli, as it seems like every month more and more hidden gems get released to Blu-ray by specialty distributors. I leave you with my Top Ten Giallo list. What's yours? Tweet me @hpmakelovecraft, because although the month is over, Giallo watching doesn't have to be!
10. The Fifth Cord
8. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage
7. Lizard In A Woman's Skin
6. The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh
5. Deep Red
4. Blood And Black Lace
3. All The Colors Of The Dark
2. What Have You Done To Solange?